Open Door Restaurant Remodels

Remodeling restaurants has been the go-to sales driver for much of the restaurant industry during the past few years, either by refreshing a brand in danger of going stale or by innovating design and menu to reignite growth. In the last fewyears, ITEK Construction was involved in several major re-model projects such as McDonald’s, Red Lobster and Pollo Campero in Penn., NJ, Md., DC, and Va.

For many large, mature, local or national chains, there is no room for extra U.S. units; or building a restaurant is more costly and time consuming. So remodeling stores to add sales layers or to encourage more frequent and lengthier guest visits has become the way to grow. McDonald’s, for instance, already has upgraded hundreds of its domestic restaurants, with more units cited as candidates for remodeling or rebuilding in the long term. This remodel project is called MRP (Major Remodel project) and the Baltimore-DC region is holding a national construction completion record with 2-3 weeks duration time. Itek Construction is among five approved GCs in this region.

Darden Restaurants Inc. also remodeled hundreds of its Red Lobster and Olive Garden locations in the past several years. Since these stores are so big, we had to work phase by phase by dividing the restaurant into four or five sections with each section having to be completed before moving to other sections. You can work with these remodels day or night based on your business volume, your financial strength and how fast you want to complete the project. As a general contractor, my preference is to work only at night and keep the restaurant open and clean during normal business hours.

As restaurants compete for new business, they have to attract customers by not only offering good food, but also creating a welcoming atmosphere. As many restaurant owners know, changing things up on the menu every now and then is good for business. What many are just now learning is that remodeling a restaurant also has significant financial rewards.

According to a survey, restaurants generally see a 6% to 8% increase in sales traffic following their remodeling. The remodels cost from $300,000 to $1 million depending on the type of business and scope of remodel. Since so much money is involved in a restaurant remodel, restaurant owners and contractors should have a solid understanding of what makes a restaurant remodel successful. A few of our clients even preferred to close their restaurants completely during the remodel since remaining closed increased sales more than staying partially open during the remodel. It seems that customers came to newly remodeled restaurants as if brand new instead of with a remodeled store mentality.


The Design Phase

Address all issues during the design phase. I would recommend discussing fire code issues (exits, emergency lights, alarms, etc.), HVAC concerns (including hoods, exhausts and A/C), plumbing issues (drainage, grease traps, ADA bathrooms, etc.), electrical issues (sizing panels for current loads and future use, lighting, etc) and building issues (accessibility issues, ADA restrooms, fire codes, design issues (just because it looks nice on paper doesn’t mean it will be easy to build). This approach saves the owner lots of money by minimizing/eliminating change orders and most importantly, helps the owner open faster which will allow him/her to start making money faster.

The Exterior

Focus on the exterior first. According to our most established, large national restaurant chain clients, the exterior of a restaurant is one of the best investments that a restaurant can make in their business. One hundred percent of potential customers see the outside of your restaurant. People are less likely to want to go into a restaurant that looks decrepit and run-down.

The Interior

Plan out your space. ITEK advises making the work-space more user efficient. People (servers, customers, hosts, busboys) are always moving around in restaurants. You’ll want to make sure that you have enough space for everyone to comfortably move during peak business hours. Think about how close you want your tables to be to each other. This will depend on your clientele. A small tapas restaurant might have tables closer together than a large family focused restaurant.

Consider enhancing your bar. Alcohol sales can account for upwards of 50 percent of a restaurant’s revenue. Typically, bar patrons don’t mind sitting a little bit closer together, nor is there the need for space to put high chairs. By emphasizing the bar area and maximizing space, restaurant owners can draw more patrons into the bar and in turn, increase alcohol sales.

Determine ceiling height. Not only does ceiling height add to or decrease from the ambience and feel of a restaurant, but also affects acoustics. Will your restaurant play music? How many people do you expect to be there during busy hours? These are all things to consider when figuring out ceiling height.


Analyze your lighting needs. Again, this is based on what type of restaurant you have. The lighting in an upscale Italian restaurant will be very different than that of a casual burger joint. Your contractor/architect should work with an electrician to make sure there is adequate lighting for your customers and employees.

Structural Changes

Limit major structural changes. Based on our experience budgets can get out of control when you start talking about plumbing and mechanical changes or moving walls.

Fire Protection/Grease Interceptor

Don’t forget to make sure that your fire system is up to code. During a remodel, especially one in which new equipment is added or changes have been made to the electric system, it is imperative to make sure that the sprinkler system, fire suppression system, and fire alarms are up to code.

Don’t overlook the grease interceptor. The purpose of the gravity grease interceptor is to reduce the amount of animal and vegetable fats, oils and greases in wastewater to acceptable levels as established by the authority having jurisdiction. These units should be provided with easy access for maintenance, be sized to hold large quantities of grease (to reduce pumping/clean-out costs) and be outdoors to facilitate easy inspection and reduce the possibility of food contamination during clean-out. Solidified grease can cause sewer blockages and overflows that pose unnecessary health hazards as raw sewage backs up into residence or commercial establishments. A properly plumbed and maintained grease interceptor will protect sewer systems from these occurrences.

Osman YAZGAN, President
ITEK Construction & Consulting, Inc